Wakefield, Gilbert

, a distinguished classical scholar and critic, was born at Nottingham, Feb. 22, 1756, in the parsonage-house of St. Nicholas, of which church his father, the rev. George Wakefield, was then rector. An uncommon solidity and seriousness of disposition marked him from infancy, together with a power of application, and thirst after knowledge, which accelerated his progress in juvenile studies. At the age of seven he went to the free school in Nottingham, where the usher, Mr. Beardmore (afterwards master of the Charter-house), threatened upon one occasion to flog him, which Mr. Wakefield speaks of with great indignation. At the age of nine, he exchanged this school for that of Wilford near Nottingham, | then under the direction of the rev. Isaac Pickthall, and afterwards was placed under the tuition of his father’s curate at Richmond, whom he characterises with great contempt. At the age of thirteen he was placed under the rev. Richard Woodeson, at Kingston-upon-Thames, to which parish his father was then removed; but we are told he was used to lament that he had not possessed the advantages of an uniform education at one of those public schools which lay a solid foundation for classical erudition in its most exact form. About the age of sixteen he was admitted of Jesus college, Cambridge. Here he resumed his classical studies, but the lectures on algebra and logic were, he tells us, “odious to him beyond conception;” and he is perhaps not far wrong in thinking that “logic and metaphysics are by no means calculated for early years.” Few incidents occurred during the first two years of his residence at college. He pursued his mathematical and philosophical studies with a stated mixture of classical reading, through the whole of this interval, except when interrupted by fastidiousness, which he thus describes: “A strange fastidiousness, for which I could never account, and which has been a great hindrance to my improvement through my whole life, took a bewildering possession of my faculties. This impediment commonly recurred in the spring of the year, when I was so enamoured of rambling in the open air, through solitary fields, or by a river’s side, of cricket and of fishing, that no self-expostulations, no prospect of future vexation, nor even emulation itself, could chain me to my books. Sometimes, for a month together, and even a longer period, have I been disabled from reading a single page, though tormented all the time with the reflection, without extreme restlessness and impatience.

In the third year of his residence at college he was a candidate for one, or all, of Dr. Browne’s medals. His Latin ode was allowed to possess merit, but was unsuccessful, from partiality, as he insinuates; but he allowed that his Greek and his epigrams were deservedly rejected. In his life he introduces the Latin ode with “variations,” which, although he calls them “trivial,” give a suspicious alteration of character to the production. In 1776 he took his degree, and had the honour of nomination to the second post. About the same time he gained the second of the duke of Newcastle’s classical medals. Dr. Forster gained | the first; Mr. Wakefield allows him superior merit, buf still endeavours to insinuate partiality in the allotment of the prizes.

In 1776 he was elected fellow, and continued the prosecution of his classical and theological studies through that and the following year. The first of his publications appeared in 1776, a small collection of Latin poems, with a few notes on Horace. In 1777 he gained the second of the bachelor’s prizes, a gold medal given by the chancellor. On the 22d of March, 1778, he was ordained a deacon by the bishop of Peterborough, and takes occasion from this event to declare that “he was so little satisfied with the requisition of subscription, and the subjects of that subscription themselves, that he afterwards regarded this acquiescence as the most disingenuous action of his whole life.” He then accepted a curacy at Stockport in Cheshire, whence he afterwards removed to a similar situation at Liverpool. Here he complains that the clergy, both conformist and nonconformist, paid little attention to him, and at the same time his dissatisfaction with the doctrine and worship of the church continued to increase. His dislike of the church was indeed now becoming inveterate, and devoid of all candour. Among his anecdotes when at Liverpool, he gives one of a church clergyman, who purloined the sacrament money; this clergyman had once been a dissenter, and Mr. Wakefield imputes his committing this crime to his having left the dissenters and conformed to the church.

In 1779 he vacated his fellowship by marrying Miss Watson, niece of the rector of Stockport. This was soon followed by an invitation to undertake the post of classical tutor at the dissenting academy at Warrington, with which he complied; and he was regarded as a very valuable acquisition to this institution. He was exemplary in the discharge of his duty, and equally gained the attachment of his pupils, and the friendship and esteem of his colleagues; but the academy was at this time on the decline, and Mr. Wakefield, though accused of precipitating its downfall, has assigned sufficient reasons for that event without his agency. While here, he began his career as a theological controversialist, with an acrimony of style which was lamented by his friends, and which laid him open to the reproach of his enemies, or it would be more proper to say, created those enemies. Among his tracts now published | were, “A plain and short account of the nature of Baptism according to the New Testament, with a cursory remark on Confirmation and the Lord’s Supper;” “An Essay on Inspiration;” and “A new translation of the first epistle of Paul the apostle to the Thessalon’tans.” This was followed in the next year by “A new translation of St. Matthew, with notes, critical, philological, and explanatory,” 4to; a work which displayed the extent of his reading, and the facility with which his memory called up its reposited stores for the purpose of illustration or parallelism. At this time he likewise augmented his fund for“Scripture interpretation by the acquisition of various oriental dialects. After quitting Warrington, at the dissolution of the academy, he took up his residence successively at Bramcote in Nottinghamshire, at Richmond in Surrey, and at Nottingham, upon the plan of taking a few pupils, and pursuing at his leisure those studies to which he became continually more attached. While in the first of these situations, he published the first volume of” An enquiry into the opinions of the Christian writers of the three first centuries concerning the person of Jesus Christ, 1 * which did not meet with encouragement sufficient to induce him to proceed in the design. A painful disorder in his left shoulder, with which he was attacked in 1786, and which harassed him for two years, interrupted the course of his employments; and he did no more during that period, than to draw up some remarks upon the Georgics of Virgil and the poems of Gray, which he published with editions of those respective works. As his health relumed, his theological pursuits were resumed, and he again engaged in the field of controversy. He also, in 1789, made a commenceaient of a work, which was to exhibit “Au union of theological and classical learning, illustrating the Scriptures by light borrowed from the philology of Greece and Rome.” Under the title of “Silva Critica,” three parts of this performance issued from the university press of Cambridge.

The formation of a dissenting college at Hackney, which, it was hoped, by the powerful aid of the metropolis, would become both more considerable and more permanent than former institutions of a like kind, produced an invitation to Mr.Wakefield to undertake the classical professorship. With this he thought proper to comply; and accordingly, in 1790, he quitted his abode at Nottingham, and removed | to Hackney, upon the plan of joining with public tuition the instruction of private pupils; but, as he says, “both of these anchors failed him, and left his little bark again afloat on the ocean of life.” The share which he had in the disunion that finally proved fatal to the academy at Hackney, is thus candidly related by one of his biographers:

"Although Mr. Wakefield’s principles had induced him to renounce his clerical office in the church of England, and he had become a dissenter from her doctrine and worship, yet he was far from uniting with any particular class of those who are usually denominated dissenters. He had an insuperable repugnance to their mode of performing divine service; and he held in no high estimation the theological and philosophical knowledge which it has been the principal object of their seminaries of education to communicate. It has already been observed, that the basis of his own divinity was philology. Classical literature, therefore, as containing the true rudiments of all other science, was that on which he thought the greatest stress should be laid, in a system of liberal education. This point he inculcated with an earnestness which probably appeared somewhat dictatorial to the conductors of the institution.

Further, in the progress of his speculations, he had been led to form notions concerning the expediency and propriety of public worship, extremely different from those of every body of Christians, whether in sects or establishments; and as he was incapable of thinking one thing and practising another, he had sufficiently made known his sentiments on this subject, as well in conversation, as by abstaining from attendance upon every place of religious assembly. They who were well acquainted with him, knew that in his own breast piety was one of the most predominant affections; but the assembling for social worship had for so many ages been regarded as the most powerful instrument for the support of general religion, that to discourage it was considered as of dangerous example, especially in a person engaged in the education of youth. Notwithstanding, therefore, his classical instructions in the college were received by the students almost with enthusiastical admiration, and conferred high credit on the institution, a dissolution of his connection with it took place in the summer of 1791.

The subsequent publication of his pamphlet on public worship deprived him (as he says) of the only two private | pupils he expected. From that period he continued to reside at Hackney, employing his time partly in the education of his own children, partly in the composition of his works. His “Translation of the New Testament, with notes,” 3 vols. 8vo, appeared towards the close of 1791, and was very respectably patronized. In language it preserves as much as possible of the old version, but along with many bold innovations. He printed also two more parts of his “Silva Critica.” He gave a new edition, much corrected, of his “Translation of the New Testawent;” and besides, enlarged a former work “On the Evidences of the Christian Religion,” and published a reply to Paine’s attack upon it in his “Age of Reason.*

To the works of Pope, our English poet, Mr. Wukefield paid particular attention, and designed to have given an edition of his works; but after he had published the first volume, the scheme was rendered abortive by Dr. Warton’s edition. He printed, however, a second volume, entitled “Notes on Pope,” and also gave a new edition of Pope’s Iliad and Odyssey. As a classical editor he appeared in a selection from the Greek tragedians, in editions of Horace, Virgil, Bion and Moschus, and finally his superb edition of Lucretius, which, after all, must decide his character as a critic. Many eminent scholars, both at home and abroad, have given their opinion of this edition, but their decision is not uniform. We would refer the reader to a vry learned and impartial view of Mr. Wakefield’s critical character by Mr. Elmsley, in one of the numbers of the “Classical Journal.” Among Mr. Wakefield’s publications, prior to this, we omitted to mention the “Memoirs” of his own life, in one volume 8vo, which appeared in 1792, and contained an account of his life nearly to that period. We have followed it partly in the preceding account, as to facts, but upon the whole are inclined to apply to him what he has advanced of a Mr. Mounsey. He is one “on whose abilities his numerous acquaintance will reflect with more pleasure than on his life.

Entering at length into the dangerous path of politics, he published “Remarks on the General Orders of the Duke of York,” in which he arraigned the justice of the war with France in terms which are supposed to have

*

In this, as in some of his other works, Mr. Wakefield pleased no party; and some of his friends, being the friends also of Paine, regretted that he should have treated that blasphemer with illiberal language.

| exercised the utmost forbearance of the ministry. But in his “Reply to some parts of the bishop of Lanclaff’s Address,” he passed those limits, and a prosecution being commenced, he was sentenced, upon conviction, to a two years imprisonment in Dorchester gaol. While here, his sufferings were as much as possible alleviated by the zeal of his friends, who raised a subscription of 5000l., which eased his mind as to a future provision for his family, and probably far exceeded what he could ever have been able to leave them, under any probable circumstances.

During his confinement, he composed several pamphlets, and planned some works of greater magnitude; among the former were a series of “Essays from Dio Chrysostom;” an imitation in English iambic rhyme, of Juvenal’s first satire; and a small volume entitled “Noctes carcerarise” among the latter were an edition of an English and Greek Lexicon, which failed for want of sufficient encouragement; and a series of classical lectures, to be given in London after his liberation, and the first course of which, consisting of observations on the second book of Virgil’s Æneid, he lived to complete. These lectures occupied him almost immediately on his release; but towards the end of August, 1801, he was attacked by a typhus fever, and died Sept. 9, in the forty-sixth year of his age.

Mr. WakefieWs character has been- drawn by various pens some of these portraits which make directly for him may be found in his Life lately published and many just, although sometimes discordant, remarks are interspersed in the literary journals of his time. The following we have selected, as according best with the opinion we have been enabled to form from an attentive perusal of his Life and Letters, but principally because written by a man of learning and candour, on whom we could have relied without previous examination.

"Gilbert Wakefield was a diligent, and, we believe, a sincere inquirer after truth but he was unhappily so framed in temper and habits of mind, as to be nearly certain of missing it, in almost every topic of inquiry. Knowing his own assiduity, and giving himself ample credit for sagacity, he thought that he was equal to the decision of every possible question. Conscious also of integrity, he never suspected that he could be biassed by any prejudices, and, therefore, had no doubt that his conclusions were always right. But unfortunately he had prejudices of the most | seductive kinds. He was prejudiced, in the first instance, against every established opinion, merely because it was established; and, very sparingly allowing to others the qualities for which he thought himself distinguished, he was always perfectly ready to believe, that all inquirers, who formed different conclusions, were either weak or dishonest. In this strange error he was invincibly confirmed by the very sacrifices he had made, early in life, to his own opinions. He must be honest, he thought, because he had sacrificed his interest to his judgment: others must be dishonest because their interest happened to coincide with their opinions. He loved a notion the more, for having made himself a martyr to it; and would probably have given it up, if ever it had become the opinion of the majority. He never seems to have suspected that his mind might be biassed to maintain these notions, for which he had once solemnly pledged his sagacity, or sacrificed his advantages; and thus he became bigotted to almost every paradox which had once possessed his very eccentric understanding. This was not only the case in religious questions, but equally so in critical doctrines. He was as violent against Greek accents, as he was against the Trinity; and anathematized the final v, as strongly as Episcopacy; though in these questions he stood in opposition to professou Person, and all the best Greek scholars of modern as well as ancient times; no less than in his faith, or rather lack of faith, he contradicted the majority of the profoundest theologians and wisest men.

That he was strictly and enthusiastically honest, ought, we think, to be allowed, in the fullest sense of the terms; and his mind, naturally ardent, soon became so enamoured with this consciousness (which is undoubtedly, to a mind capable of relishing it, abundantly delightful) that he seems to have acquired even a passion for privations; as witnessing to himself an integrity which could cheerfully sacrifice inclination to conviction. These feelings, added to his pride of independent thinking, led him, we doubt not, to abstain from wine; to have relinquished in part, and to be tending entirely to give up, the use of animal food; with various other instances of peculiarity. Not even the Creator,*

* Not to mention the words of Rtvelalkm.
who ordained that animals should afford sustenance to each other, could obtain credit with him, against | his private opinions: nor would he see even the obvious truth, that if the use of animal food were abandoned, a small number would be produced, to die by miserable decay, while whole classes and genera would gradually become extinct. In all things it was the same with G. W. Whatever coincided not with his ideas of rectitude, justice., elegance, or whatever else it might be, was to give way at once, and be rescinded at his pleasure, on pain of the most violent reprehension to all opponents: whether it were an article of faith, a principle of policy, a doctrine of morality, or a reading in an ancient author, still it was equallycut and slash, away it must go, to the dogs and vultures. These exterminating sentences were also given with such precipitancy, as not to allow even a minute for consideration. To the paper, to the press, to the world, all was given at once, frequently to the incurring of most palpable absurdity. Thus the simple elegance of” O beate Sexti“in Horace, was proposed, in an edition of that author, to be changed to” O bea Te, Sexti," though the alteration, besides being most bald and tasteless, produced a blunder in quantity so gross, that no boy even in the middle part of a public school could have been thought pardonable in committing it. It may easily be judged, whether a man of such precipitance, and so blind a self-confidence, was likely to be successful as an investigator of truth. So very far was he from it, that though no man of common sense perhaps ever literally exemplified the latter part of Dryden’s famous line on Zimri——

`Stiff in opinion, always in the wrong;'

yet few, we conceive, have ever approached more completely to both parts, than the subject of these memoirs.

But why, it may be asked, should we thus mark the character of a man, who can no longer offend, and of whom therefore, as a trite maxim of candour pretends, nothing but good should be said. The folly of the maxim has been recognized by many men of sense; because if ever a man’s character can with propriety be scrutinized, it is when any exposure of his faults can no longer injure his interests, or wound his feelings. In the present instance, it becomes necessary, because, in the volumes now before us, (his Life in 2 vols. 8vo), an attempt is made to hold him up to an admiration, which might be hoped to give currency to some of his most pernicious opinions. The admirers oi him and | of his notions are complimented as the only lovers of truth and freedom; and he is endeavoured to be represented as a martyr, of which character, if he had much of the constancy, he had proportionably little of the other estimable qualities. Instead of exhibiting him as a model, we should rather lament him as a strong example of human imperfection; in which some great qualities of soul and understanding were rendered pernicious to himself and others, by faults original or habitual, which perverted them in almost every exertion. Thus his sincerity became offensive, his honesty haughty and uncharitable, his intrepidity factious, his acuteness delusive, and his memory, assisted by much diligence, a vast weapon which his judgment was totally unable to wield. In such a picture, notwithstanding some fine features, there is more to humble than to flatter the pride of man; and to hold it up to almost indiscriminate admiration is neither prudent nor useful.

Since Mr. Wakefield’s death a “Collection of Letters” has been published between him and the celebrated statesman, the hon. Charles Fox, relating chiefly to subjects of Greek literature.

Mr. Wakefield’s brother, the Rev. Thomas Wakefield, appointed minister of Richmond, by his father in 1776, and who died Nov. 26, 18O6, was a man peculiarly distinguished by benevolence of disposition, benignity of manners, and liberality of sentiment. A memoir of him, in which his virtues and his benevolent disposition are described much at large by the Rev. Dr. Charles Symmons, wa.s printed and circulated soon after his death. The poignant regret occasioned by his loss caused others of his friends to employ their pens in the delineation of his amiable character, particularly the Rev. Edward Patteson, of Richmond, who preached his funeral sermon, and John May, esq. who inserted a character of him at considerable length in the parish register. 1

1

Memoirs of Mr. WakefieM, Iso-*, 2 vols. 8vo, Sketch by Dr. Aikia drawn up in 1801. British Critic, vol. XXVI.